With the Siargao International Surfing Cup drawing near – which is now on its 20th year, by the way – I'm taking a look back at that one time I visited the lovely Siargao Island in Surigao del Norte, Philippines.
Dubbed as the "Surfing Capital of the Philippines," Siargao first came into my consciousness after I chanced upon an article from our company employee newsletter. It was about a certain international surfing competition where our company was one of the sponsors. I got intrigued.
Fast-forward to February 2002, I found myself in Surigao City for a work assignment. With Siargao just 3 hours away by slow ferry and about 1.5 hours by fastcraft, the chance to visit the island was just too good to pass up even if rains are expected in the area from January through July. Undaunted by the weather, I embarked on this little journey of mine – alone – and sailed for three hours while huge waves rocked our vessel.
A soft drizzle greeted me at the port of Dapa, Siargao’s primary drop-off point. I hopped on a habal-habal where I would be taken to the town of General Luna, or GL, as it is commonly tagged by locals. My hour-long trip was decked with beautiful sceneries of rice fields and mountains until we hit the end of the concrete road. The ground was white! Asked why the streets of GL were not cemented, my habal-habal driver told me it was the mayor’s decision not to. The reason, though, was pretty obvious because the white yet compact grounds were such a beauty and they seemed to emit a certain glow that asphalt and concrete would only mar. (I have no idea, however, if the streets remain untouched by concrete today, 12 years later.)
Cloud 9 during the lean season.
Glad to have met a few acquaintances who were gracious enough to take my photos.
Gosh, I was so young then!
My driver was kind enough to assist me in finding a place to stay at Pesangan Beach, where I settled for a native hut for just Php 150 a night. The place didn't have a shower or even a faucet. Water, however, was provided in a plastic drum that the owner/caretaker can refill if I left the second bathroom door open. Somehow it reminded me of our budget accommodation at Pandan Island Resort.
Foreigners, all of them Caucasians, occupied all the other huts. Most of them, I learned, were staying for more than a month already. I was even amazed to see this one English couple doing their own laundry in a basin by hand and gathering their own water in buckets just as the locals did. They said they wanted to experience the culture and way of living of the locals. Otherwise, why would they have to travel halfway across the globe just to experience practically the same thing they can have back home.
Just a few steps from my cottage was an awesome stretch of white sand beach but the water was too shallow for swimming. In the distance was a break that sheltered the beach from the Pacific's huge waves. It was nice to be able to just sit there and relax.
Save for a few comforts like cable channels, electricity and cellular phone coverage, GL only had the basics to offer at the time. With no fancy restaurants, Maridyl’s was the place to be for cheap but good food. Because everything is made to order, your meal's going to take a while. You can, however, open as many bottles of beer as you can down from the fridge while waiting. Maridyl’s adopts an honesty system where one simply declares to the cashier what he's had, including how many bottles he has emptied, pays, then goes. No one would even bother counting bottles.
Despite being by my lonesome, I was engaged in a friendly conversation with foreign tourists, some of whom already knew of Siargao since the late 80s and who just kept coming back almost every year.
The long and winding (wooden) road was tiring, so I sat down.
Not being able to surf, this was all I could do.
Definitely can't swim here.
The next day I checked out Cloud 9, where swells are said to be the best (which can peak at 9 feet, hence the name) and where surfing competitions are held. There was a nice winding wooden walkway that allowed surfers to skip the trouble of having to negotiate their way through sharp rocks and just get closer to the swells much quicker. It was lean season for Siargao, though, so there weren't many people around. The waves, in fact, were not well-formed that day and as such were not ideal for surfing. It sure wasn't the best time to try my hand at surfing.
With a maze of sharp rock outcrops and a scattered showing of cream-colored sand on the beach, the surrounding landscape was beautiful but it certainly discouraged swimming. Nevertheless, I later found a spot elsewhere where I was able to enjoy a bit of the water for the rest of the afternoon.
Monkey climbing a tree. Oh did I have a penchant for acting silly back then.
And lest I forget, I also had a propensity to do this back in the day. Haha!
Early next morning I already had to leave. I had so very little time to enjoy Siargao and I haven't really seen much of the island yet. After 12 years I'm sure a lot has already changed there. There are now more resorts, including a really pricey one, an airport, and God knows what else. I'm all for the island's development but I hope not at the expense of its natural beauty.
Hopefully soon I'll get to go back and do some island-hopping, explore Sohoton and other caves, check out the mangrove forests, and more.
The 20th Siargao International Surfing Cup will be on Sept. 24-29, 2014. Aside from Surigao City as a jumpoff point, there are now flights from Cebu going straight to Siargao Island.